Tag Archives: Opinion

Attacking “The Jesus Problem”

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians…
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question…
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him…
Matthew 22:15, 23, 34-35 (NIV)

Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the praises of the fickle crowd. He challenged the powerful bosses of institutional religion by creating a public disturbance amidst their religious racketeering. Jesus is on a mission. Matthew’s eye-witness account of these events does not reveal Jesus as a helpless victim of circumstance, but rather the One driving the action.

With each word and every action, Jesus is putting the powerful religious cartel into an increasingly difficult position. His popularity among the poor and marginalized has stirred public sentiment against the religious leaders. The small riot Jesus made among the money changers was not only an embarrassment and PR nightmare within the community of the Jewish commoners, but if Pilate gets wind that there’s unrest among the Jews he and the Roman occupational force might crack down hard on them, and that would be bad for business.

The Temple leadership have a good racket going. They are wealthy, and they have carved out a lucrative niche for themselves in their Temple business. Their powerful religious authority gives them an iron political grip over the Jewish people in Jerusalem and abroad. They may be living under Roman occupation, but under the Roman umbrella they are supreme rulers of their own small kingdom. From the perspective of the Temple’s religious leadership, this pesky would-be Messiah from Nazareth is bad for business. He’s listed as a “threat” in their SWOT analysis. “It’s not personal, Jesus,” you can imagine the High Priest muttering, “It’s strictly business.”

The end of yesterday’s chapter and the continuing events in today’s chapter reveal the initial strategy of the religious leaders to deal with “the Jesus problem.” These men were all well-educated lawyers and legal scholars who made an art form out of legal debate over the Law of Moses. They would leverage their expertise in legal minutiae to engage Jesus in very public debate in the Temple courts. Surely this uneducated yokel from the North country would give them a sound-byte they could tweet, print, and repeat endlessly to stem the tide of His popularity.

In today’s chapter, Matthew records wave after wave of envoys from the religious council testing Jesus with the hot political and religious topics of the day: Paying Roman taxes (politically heated issue), whether there is a resurrection (heated religious issue among factions within the temple), and which is the greatest commandment (hot religious debate among temple lawyers). Because these topics were as controversial in temple circles as abortion and gun control are in ours, whatever Jesus says can be used politically to ruin His approval ratings with one group or another.

But Jesus deftly responds to each question with answers His enemies did not expect. Then, after playing defense for several rounds of debate, Jesus turns the tables and goes on the offense. He tests the prestigious lawyers with a question of His own, and stumps them at their own game.

“No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

This morning I am thinking about the contrast between Jesus and the religious cartel who were threatened by Him. Jesus was a simple man of simple means born in a backwater town to poor, blue-collar parents. He was raised in a backwater region of the country. Jesus was not well connected, had no impressive education, and owned little more than the seamless tunic on His back (which was worth just enough that a couple of Roman guards would shoot craps over it). His political enemies, on the other hand, were upstanding religious people of elite pedigree, top-notch education, and shrewd business acumen. They would be hailed as hallmarks of success according to our contemporary culture’s criteria.

The uncomfortable question I ask myself in the quiet this morning is: Between Jesus and the religious leaders, who do I, and my life, most resemble? If I were standing in the temple courts listening to the debate between this poor teacher with His provocative views and the conservative, successful leaders of the traditional status quo, who would I be inclined to side with?

I confess that my honest answer is as uncomfortable as the question.

The Challenge in the Way We See the World

The earth will be completely laid waste
    and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
Isaiah 24:3 (NIV)

Over the past week in the United States we have seen a clash of peoples with very different world views; People who see the world very differently. The presidential election has brought those stark differences into the spotlight, along with our continued struggle to to love those with whom we disagree and to let discourse rule over discord.

I don’t hear people talking much about world views any more. I had an entire class on it in college in which we defined many of the more popular world views, discussed them at length, and weighed their differences. My impression is that higher education has changed a lot in the past 20 years. At the liberal arts college I attended we were taught that the loss of an election to those who saw the world differently was reason for fascination, personal challenge and understanding rather than fear and loathing.

World view is the primary way we see the world. World view is the lens of our core religious, political, and socio-economic views. Our world view is the filter through which we see the world and process news and events. It is a very human thing to assume that our world view is right and others world views are wrong; to struggle with those who don’t share our own personal view of the world.

There is, however, value in understanding how I view the world and to have it challenged. This is where discourse is a worthwhile friend.

Today’s chapter highlights a piece of world view that has been challenged in recent years. I had a discussion about this with Wendy and one of my daughters this past week in light of the surprising results of our election. Many followers of Jesus hold to what is essentially a medieval world view as it relates to our view of the future. This world view holds that things are going to get progressively worse and worse until there is apocalypse, and then Jesus will return and redeem everything in a eucatastrophic climax to the Great Story.

There is another world view I’ve been reading from some modern day mystics which takes an opposite view. God is progressively redeeming things. Things are getting better all the time, though we can’t really see it. Despite our fears, worries and a media bent on showing us all that is sensationally wrong with the world things are actually getting better as God’s resurrection power spreads in an ever-expanding universe.

So which is it? Apocalypse and eucatastrophe or evolving redemption? Isaiah’s prophetic words today certainly lends itself to the former. The world laid waste in desolation, but in the end the Lord is reigning in Jerusalem.

This morning I’m mulling over these things in my  mind. I’m pondering how I see the world and weighing what I read in God’s Message. I’m watching the news of the day and trying to see them both in context of my personal world view while understanding how those same events are perceived by those who see the world differently than I.

chapter a day banner 2015

Social Media, Rights, and Responsibility

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
2 Timothy 2:23-24 (NIV)

Just yesterday morning my daughter was sitting in my office and we were discussing how much life has changed in the past ten years. We were musing on how life has changed simply in our circumstances, but I also marvel at how social media and technology have changed the landscape of our daily lives.

Like everyone else, I have my own thoughts and opinions about all sorts of topics. I am also a huge proponent in every American’s first amendment right to free speech. In ten years I’ve published over 3,300 posts on this blog sharing my thoughts on all sorts of topics. In many ways social media is like the soap box that sat on the town square back in the day. Anyone and everyone was welcome to stand up and have their say to any who wanted to listen. Hear, hear. That’s freedom. God bless America.

However, I am increasingly aware that instead of one soap box sitting in a corner of the public square, today everyone has their own soap box within easy reach. Whereas I once had to make a point of going to the town square if I wanted to listen to what others had to say, today I can’t look at my phone without being barraged.

I find that as I read posts on Facebook and Twitter, as I read comments to blog posts and on-line news articles, I am struck at the vehemence, the snarkiness, the disrespect, and lack of meaningful discourse that takes place in this most public arena. The color of Christmas cups blows up into national debate. Jabs and insults are hurled non-stop from behind the disguise of pseudonyms and avatars. So much time, energy, and emotion gets wasted on things of such little consequence.

That’s the thing we once taught our children about rights: rights come with responsibilities. Because I have a right to my opinion and my say in the public square of social media doesn’t mean that it is beneficial for me, or anyone else, that I entangle myself in the endless petty conflicts, arguments, debates, and  that erupt ceaselessly in my feed.

Three times in today’s chapter, the wise mentor Paul gives first century advice to his protegé Timothy which rings with 21st century relevance:

  •  Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
  • Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

This morning I am mulling over the fact that I am more and more willing to have meaningful, face-to-face discourse and debate with respectful individuals who share very different opinions than my own. I am less and less willing, however, to waste my time and energy entering the ceaseless petty quarrels in the arena of social media.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image: jasonahowie via Flickr

Living with Others on Life’s Big Playground

 
 
Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to the foreigner residing in any of your towns, and they may eat it, or you may sell it to any other foreigner. But you are a people holy to the Lord your God.Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. Deuteronomy 14:21 (NRSV)

One of the lessons I learned on the playeground was that not all kids were raised with the same standards and rules as were held fast at the Vander Well household. Certain words that were unacceptable in our house, were perfectly normal and common vocabulary for some families. What was expected behavior in my home was not expected behavior in friend’s homes. When I quizzed my parents about these discrepancies, I was informed that other families were free to choose their own standards. As a member of our household, however, we were expected to obey the commands of our home.

I was fascinated to come across this addendum in today’s chapter to the ancient rules God gave His Hebrew children. The rule was for His children, with the understanding that not everyone chose, or was chosen, to be God’s children. While God told His children not to eat roadkill, there was the understanding and acknowledgement that roadkill might be considered an acceptable feast for others. His children could give the roadkill away to neighbors or sell it to foreigners. The rule not to eat was between God and His children.
I observe that people in our culture are increasingly intolerant of any who disagree with their beliefs, choices, or the rules of life to which they ascribe. As I read through the news of the day I find ISIS terrorists, politically correct liberals, Christian right wingers, and adherents to any number of religious or political persuasions seem to be given to the same desire for everyone submit to their way of thinking, believing, and living.

I am reminded this morning that the world is a big playground and Jesus readily accepted that people would choose not to follow Him and His prescribed dictates for conducting our lives. In fact, Jesus was downright discouraging to certain individuals who said they wanted to do so. This is consistent with the roadkill rule in today’s chapter. If Father God is accepting of the fact that not everyone on the playground will follow our house rules and our way of thinking then shouldn’t I, as a child of His household, also be accepting of that reality? Loving and accepting those who live life by the same life rules and principles as I do is relatively easy. I tend to believe that the true mark of a Jesus follower is how well we love, accept and treat those who don’t.

Jesus, the Meta Communicator

Source: sepblog via Flickr
Source: sepblog via Flickr

One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
Luke 20:1-4 (NIV)

One of our friends is a marriage and family therapist and over the years he’s commented on multiple occasions about the fact that Wendy and I meta communicate better than any couple he’s ever counseled. In other words, we communicate about how we’re communicating. Wendy and I don’t find this to be strange at all. We were both communication majors in college and theatre people by passion. We think about how things are being communicated all the time.

One of the things I love about Jesus is that He was a brilliant communicator. In today’s chapter, we find Jesus in Jerusalem the week before His execution and resurrection. He spends His days teaching in and around the Temple and He has stirred up a hornets nest of socio-political conflict. The crowds love Him. The religious leaders who control the Temple racket want Jesus rubbed out, but are afraid of His popularity and the potential political backlash if they move too quickly against Him. In an effort to publicly discredit Him and tarnish His popularity in the polls, the religious leaders send several waves of spies to try and trip Jesus up and provide them the ammunition to discredit the young rabbi.

But, Jesus (who had once claimed “I am the Word”) is a brilliant meta communicator. He sees through the questions coming at Him and immediately recognizes who is behind the question and what they are trying to do. So, Jesus applied a series of defensive communication strategies. First, He refuses to answer a direct question with a direct answer. Instead, Jesus responds to a question with a question and catches the chief priests in their own trap.

Wendy and I have noticed in recent years that our society and culture have slowly lost the art and ability to have honest, sincere conversations with people of differing opinions in an effort to explore ideas and opinions. The more polarized we become politically, socially and spiritually, the more our we find conversations are actually interrogations:

  • “Do you think homosexuals are going to hell?”
  • “Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God?”
  • “Don’t you believe a woman should have a right to do what she wants with her body?”
  • “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?”
  • “If a woman eight months pregnant is murdered, is it one homicide or two?”
  • “Do you really think a hunter needs an uzi?”

In my experience, questions like these are not typically asked with the honest intention to openly explore issues of life and society with another person, but instead are asked to trap the respondent into a corner from which the interrogator can easily label him or her. “Oh, well she’s obviously a [conservative, liberal, religious nut job, whacko, gun nut, feminist, misogynist, Republican, Democrat, homosexual, homophobe, and etc.]”. Once labeled, we find it easier to dismiss other people and their thoughts, words, beliefs, opinions, and person.

Today, I’m thankful Wendy and I enjoy a diverse group of family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who represent a broad spectrum of thoughts, experiences, ideas and opinions. I’m grateful for those who show me love and respect despite their differences with me, and I want to follow Jesus’ command to tangibly love my enemies (which includes perceived enemies of thought, opinion, beliefs and politics).

The Conflict of Dual Citizenship

Vote 12345
Vote 12345 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:2 (NLT)

As I continuously make my way through God’s Message, I am repeatedly amazed at the lack of discussion around certain things. Slavery, for example, is accepted as a way of life. There is no call to action against it, merely an admonishment towards individuals to conduct themselves properly in their roles and relationships within it. Politics is another subject on which Jesus, and eventually the fathers of the church, had little to say.

The time and place that Jesus lived and taught was a period of Roman occupation. The same was true of the Greek towns where Paul established small communities of Jesus followers. The political landscape was boiling with political zealots seeking to throw off the chains of Rome’s political and fiscal persecution. Jesus said very little about it, other than to deal one-on-one with those who were embroiled in the controversy one way or another. In those situations he concerned himself, not with their politics or nationality, but with their faith and relationship with God. Jesus said nothing of politics, he spoke only of our heart condition, our relationship with God, our resulting behavior towards others, and the Kingdom of God.

The type of representative republic in which I live was unheard of in Jesus’ day. A common man having citizenship, a vote, and the right of free speech was unthinkable. Living in America, or any other free country in the world, we have rights and responsibilities that simply didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. Therein lies the rub. I often struggle with the notion of how my faith and my political opinions are to coexist as a follower of Jesus. After many years of the journey I have come to decide on a few basics to guide my way…

  • My first responsibility is to love, both in word and action, every person regardless of their social standing, race, creed, color, nationality, or political views. If my political views become an obstacle to love, then my politics have taken too great a place in my heart, mind and life.
  • My second responsibility, because I am to be led and motivated by love, is to pray for those in earthly authority over me, no matter who that is or how much a agree or disagree with their political views and actions.
  • My primary citizenship is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God’s priorities are with eternal matters of life and the heart in individuals. If my citizenship in the country where I live, my political views, and my political interests in this world erodes or creates obstacles to faith, love and individual relationships, then I have misplaced my priorities.
  • As a citizen with rights, I should faithfully and prayerfully exercise my right to vote with clarity of conscience, allowing for others to differ in their opinions (even fellow believers) and not allowing it to create anger or division between us.

These thoughts have come to greater clarity in my heart over a long period of time and through many elections, political discussions, and personal experiences. I never want to diminish my rights and responsibilities as a citizen of a representative republic, but I never want my citizenship to a government of this Earth to trump my greater responsibilities to the eternal Kingdom of God.

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 4

Angry Mandy!
Image by eVo photo via Flickr

So these people started beating down the morale of the people of Judah, harassing them as they built. They even hired propagandists to sap their resolve. They kept this up for about fifteen years, throughout the lifetime of Cyrus king of Persia and on into the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:4-5 (MSG)

Through much of this life’s journey, I have found myself in different positions of leadership. From safety patrol captain in the 6th grade to student government and on to various minor positions of church, business, and civic leadership. With a natural bent to being a people pleaser, one of the most difficult and crucial lessons I’ve had to learn is that any worthwhile project you undertake will be criticized. For almost every opinion and proposal that you submit there will emerge a voice of criticism.

Aesop taught us in his fable of the tortoise and the hare that the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep running. God’s Message tells us time and time again to keep pressing on. I can only imagine what is must have been like for Zerubbabel and the folks as, for 15 years, they daily went about the work of rebuilding the temple to the incessant criticism, taunts and threats of their critics and the thugs they hired for backup.

Today, I think about the projects on which I am engaged and the obstacles I face internally, spiritually, and publicly. Over time I like to think that I have gained some wisdom to discern which criticisms I should heed and which criticisms I should completely ignore. What I do know is that the criticism of others will always be there and if I let it paralyze me then I will accomplish nothing. All I can do is to  be faithful to keep pressing on through this new day that is dawning and apply myself diligently to that which I am called to accomplish.

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